Critical Thinking

Leaving this here to remind myself to read it again later.

The teaching profession is infected with the idea that “critical thinking” is the primary goal of education. The idea comes in a few different disguises. When I was taking a “Teaching Composition” course in grad school, they called it “Writing across the curriculum.” Unfortunately, the result is a pedagogy that looks askance at anything that resembles rote memorization or knowledge mastery, and is accompanied by textbooks with fragmented bits of content. I had some firsthand experience of this when I taught from a Common Core English high school textbook a few years ago.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

On Critical Thinking:

Thinking cannot be separated from knowledge. Instead, critical thinking is learning to use our knowledge. The most effective critical thinkers, then, are those who learn history or physics. The stuff we learn about matters.

How, then, should colleges and universities understand skills? They should see them in relation to the goods of liberal education. This means that skills should be developed in the context of reading and writing about literature or history or engaging in scientific inquiry.

We can only think critically about things about which we have knowledge, and we can only make use of facts if we know how to think about them.

In other words, intellectual skills and knowledge are not two distinct things. They must work together to produce critical thinkers. Put more baldly, despite all the rhetoric, there is no such thing as critical thinking in general.

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